NZ Election 2020: Jacinda Ardern fires up at ACT for making same error as National in economic plan

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has fired up at ACT after it was revealed the political party made the same accounting error as National in its economic plan. 

ACT promised to reduce debt by $76 billion in its economic plan released last month, and more than half of that - $39.3 billion - would come from the Government's COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. 

But ACT took the $39.3 billion figure from Treasury's Budget 2020 update in May. The more recent pre-election financial update, or PREFU, showed there was only $30.6 billion left, leaving what appears to be an $8 billion hole in ACT's plan. 

National made the same mistake in its economic plan. It miscalculated how much it would save from cutting NZ Super Fund contributions, because it also used the out-of-date figures from May, resulting in a $4 billion fiscal hole.  

National is disputing claims of another $4 billion hole, after it appeared to have double-counted transport funding by allocating money from the NZ Upgrade Programme, even though that programme no longer exists. 

National's Paul Goldsmith says that hole would be plugged by spending more of the National Land Transport Fund, which raises about $4 billion each year from fuel taxes and road user charges. 

Ardern said on Monday political parties cannot be "cavallier" when campaigning, especially when New Zealand is in an economic recession. 

"We are here in the middle of a campaign that will be about our economic recovery and my pitch to New Zealanders is that we cannot afford to risk changing course right now, particularly when the two Opposition parties in this campaign have $8 billion holes that they cannot account for," she said. 

"That, to me, says that their economic plans are risky."

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said it shows the risks that a National-ACT coalition would pose to New Zealand’s economic recovery. 

"As the Prime Minister's already said, Opposition parties have now each got an $8 billion hole. They have to be able to put up a credible plan. They've failed to use the right numbers again, there's some very questionable assumptions in here."

ACT leader David Seymour said Opposition parties have been forced to keep up with Labour's rapid spending. 

"Our figures were correct at the time they were published. This is the problem with Labour – they're spending money so quickly nobody can keep up. We need to get rid of them before they bankrupt the country."

Labour has been dealing with its own blunder, after it released its economic plan with a $140 billion typo, due to an error in a graph where it should have shown debt as a percentage of GDP rather than in dollar terms.  

Before Labour released a fixed version of it, the plan showed about $56 billion of debt in 2025-2026, despite the Government starting off the COVID-19 crisis with about that much debt. In reality, debt is expected to reach more than $200 billion by 2024.

"We got absolutely pulverised for a $4 million mistake, but they made a $140 billion mistake and it seems to have gone pretty much unchallenged, so it's an odd environment we are working in," National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee told Magic Talk. 

Goldsmith has also pointed out that Labour's fiscal plan hasn't included costings or funding for two expensive election promises, pumped hydro and light rail from Auckland CBD to the airport. 

"Pumped hydro has estimates starting at $4 billion. Yet there is no mention of it in Labour's pamphlet," he said last week. "Labour can't have a policy targeting 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 without a clear plan to get there and how it will be paid for."

Goldsmith was referring to Labour's promise to progress a pumped hydro scheme at Lake Onslow which has been identified by experts as the renewable project most likely to address New Zealand's dry year needs. 

The promise came as part of Labour's plan to have 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, bringing it forward by five years. 

"No final decision has been taken, no costing has been undertaken, and so it would be highly unusual to bank a project that at this stage has none of that detail attached to it, nor any agreement as to whether that project will be the one that takes us to that aspiration," Ardern said. 

She said it is "totally" within the expectations of what Treasury would do. 

"I think National knows full-well what they're claiming here on what should be accounted for in the meantime is wrong, because on their logic they have a significant hole in their own budget," Ardern said. 

"Just last week I saw posters advertising their commitment to the second harbour crossing. I see no accounting for that in their budget."

A National Party spokesperson confirmed to Newshub that $5 billion has been allocated in the first decade to its promise of a second Auckland harbour crossing. It's part of National's 10-year $31 billion infrastructure package, with the intention of work beginning in 2028.

ACT wants to get New Zealand out of debt by ending KiwiSaver contributions, stopping the first year of free university, and cancelling the Best Start payments for families with newborn babies, among others. 

"The only pathway that is possible for National is through ACT, and so both National and ACT have to take responsibility not only for the mistakes they've made, but also for the cuts to public services that would be required," Robertson said. 

National has promised to keep Best Start and the winter energy payment, but would spend less than Labour to try and reach its goal of 36 percent of GDP by 2034, compared to Labour which by that time will get debt to 48 percent of GDP. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll shows Labour on 50.1 percent, National 29.6 percent, and ACT on 6.3 percent.